Choking on food is a problem that people encounter from time to time. For some, the anticipation of choking on food causes severe phobia and it is for this reason that they will choose not to eat many food types or textures. For most people the fear of choking concentrates mainly on choking on chicken or fish bones and, in the case of children, peanuts.
However, choking is a threat. Usually, and fortunately, small pieces of food enter the trachea. Such small pieces of food do not close off the ability to breathe altogether and, although great discomfort is experienced, the piece of food will be ejected with coughing.
Due to the fact that mankind evolved as a browser, meaning eating while on the move, it is likely that only smallish pieces of food were put into the mouth at any one time. Individuals would have been immersed in picking their food and concentrating on locating the best samples. Therefore, feeding would have been relatively personal and quiet.
Nowadays, many of us eat together. Meal times have gained many diversions such as watching the TV, singing, laughing and talking loudly. All of these diversions serve to divert us from eating our food attentively.
One of the main causes of ingesting food into the trachea is due to breathing through the mouth while eating. A lot of people take advantage of the opportunity of having an open mouth to fulfill two functions, namely that of taking a breath so as not to be short of breath while chewing and that of inserting food into the mouth.
The proper way to put food into the mouth, from a safety aspect would be to take a breath through the nose, then to open the mouth and to insert the food without taking a breath. One would then close the mouth to chew ones food, continuing to breath through the nose. Breathing through the mouth when eating is a bad habit with it’s risks attached.
Much can be do to lessen the risk of serious, life threatening choking in the way we cut our food. Food should bot be served in the form of balls or ovals. Everything should be at least cut in half. Food should not be cut into rings or disks. Strips are much safer for all age groups. Food should not be served in large pieces either because many people fail to chew their food and tend to swallow their food after only a few chews. Large pieces of food can stick in the throat and the muscular pressure that is created by the discomfort can push the epiglottis upwards leaving the trachea open for food to enter.
Powders are another cause of choking and discomfort, especially icing sugar. Again, if air is inhaled while placing the food item in the mouth, icing sugar will be taken into the trachea and cause a reaction that can lead to severe coughing and a choking sensation. There is not much to do about this other than to let the body deal with the problem, of, in serious cases to call for an ambulance.
While drinking we do not usually breathe through the mouth, however, accidental entry of liquids can enter the lung during coughing bouts. hiccups and loss of concentration such as when we burst into laughter. Usually these amounts are small and do not cause more than severe discomfort due to coughing, however, there have been cases where I have had to call an ambulance due to tracheal constriction which can happen, especially if the individual is asthmatic.Graphic courtesy of alexdanenberger.com
People preparing food for others should be particularly attentive to how the food is cut. Don’t cut corners and hope for the best. Always be two steps ahead of your diners with respect to their safety at the dining table. You are taking care of them so rely on Murphy’s law of the kitchen. “anything that can happen will happen, if left to chance.”
In the visual aid you will see how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. This maneuver is a technique used to force food blocking the trachea back through the mouth. When done on small children this maneuver should be done using the fingertips only.
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